Zero Waste Cleaning Fails

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I recently mentioned that I was having little success cleaning my toilet with natural products, like soda crystals and citric acid. I did give up, I just could not remove all the limescale with citric acid and it was building up way faster than when I use a chemical cleaner. I think this was also the reason the toilet was smelling bad because nasty compounds clinged to to the limescale – gross! We do live in a very hard water area, which may be why this was presenting such a problem. It would have cost me an absolute fortune to continue to clean this way, as I was needing to buy new products every fortnight at the cost of £2.50 – such was the volume of product I needed to use to even get the toilet partly clean! Now, I can buy a chemical toilet cleaner for £1 and it lasts for a couple of months. I continue to use my natural disinfecting spray on the outside. This is the best I can do, although I have just purchased an eco toilet cleaner from Waitrose to see how it goes. I was totally unimpressed with Ecover’s offering, so we will see.

I recently used up my ceramic hob cleaner, so I thought I’d give natural alternatives a go. I tried using bicarb but it was difficult to use, hard to mix and hard to remove and it couldn’t tackle grease on the hob. I tried using vinegar, as I hoped the acid might break down the grease but it failed to shift it either. So, sorry to the planet but I am going back to my Hob Bright if soda crystals also fail me.

I don’t mind using natural methods, IF they work. But what is the point if they don’t?! I’m sorry but I’m not going to have a dirty home in the name of being zero waste. Homemade dishwasher tablets were another massive disaster!

All this said, I have great success with natural disinfectant, citric acid to descale the kettle, soda crystals to clean the oven and vinegar to clean glass. Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Where am I going wrong?

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Lush Solid Shampoo and Conditioner Bars

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I realised that in all my Lush posts, I didn’t actually have a picture of their solid shampoo and conditioner bars. So here they are – now you know what they actually look like. I find one of these lasts about a month for me, but I have very long, thick hair. My husband has short hair and I think he can make them last more like 6 months which is pretty awesome value! Pictured are the ones I use – Montelbano (the yellow shampoo bar) and Jungle (the green conditioner bar). Montelbano is full of lemons to add shine and Jungle has an exotic scent; also it is a very light conditioner so ideal for greasy hair. My husband uses Soak & Float which contains Cade Oil – designed to help with psoriasis,  dandruff and eczema. I also LOVE their BIG solid conditioner, which makes my hair seriously soft and shiny.

Lush now make the conditioner bars in an oval shape, so you can tell which is which, without looking. You can also buy little tins to transport them in, if you are travelling. I only have the round tins, as I bought them before they changed the shape. I cut down the conditioner to take it with me, as I don’t want to buy more. You should always allow them to air dry however, or they will go soggy. They do have a tendency to stick to the tin, so at home I store them on a wire soap rack.

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If you want to read more about ingredients and how to use them, you can go to the Lush website and they even have a video. We will never go back to buying shampoo and conditioner in plastic bottles! These work so well, take up less space in our bathroom and  are fantastically compact for travelling. Plus, you can avoid any rules about taking liquids onboard.

Care to share your experiences with solid toiletries?

Lush Haul – Zero Waste Toiletries

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I visited Lush yesterday to stock up on toiletries, in advance of my holiday in a few weeks. Lush is great, as you can buy most toiletries packaging free. Above you can see (anti-clockwise from the giant henna block in the bottom left); Caca Marron Henna Hair Dye Block, Handy Gurugu Handcream, The Sunblock, Each Peach (and Two’s a Pair) Massage Bar and Coalface Solid Bar Soap (just about visible on the black bag).

I love their henna, I never wanted to dye my hair but I am slowly going grey (the curse of having dark hair) and in my mid-thirties, it’s got to the point where I really don’t like it being so visible. These henna bars are a little bit of effort, but I love that they are all natural. They are well worth the effort and really do make your greys sparkle brighter, as they take the colour slightly differently and look like highlights.

The hand cream comes in a little black pot, but these are made from 100% recycled plastic. Lush has a closed loop system and you take your pots back to store for recycling. They take them back to the manufacturer and round and round they go! The plastic manufacturer is also down here in Poole, right next to the factories that make the lovely Lush products. I tried their solid hand cream, but it wasn’t rich enough for me and far, far too greasy.

I don’t fully understand why they wrap the sunblock in plastic, but currently they do. I suspect it’s because it’s prone to melting – I had this experience once. But I’d still rather buy it sans-packaging and put it into a little tin for travel, like I do with their solid shampoos and conditioners. (EDIT: I wrote to Lush and they tell me that their sunblock is more prone to melting than other solid products. However, the good news is that the “plastic wrap is a cellulose plastic, which is a bio-plastic made from things like vegetable fats. It can be popped in with your compost and should begin to biodegrade within a week or so“). My husband swears this is the best sun-care product he has ever used. He has pale skin that burns very easily, but this offers fabulous protection. You simply shower it on in the morning and it’s SPF 30. You can also cut off a little bit and carry it with you in a tin, to top up. We also carry their ‘Powdered Sunshine’ which is fabulous and non-greasy, a little powder that you apply like talc. I even mix it with my face powder, to up my daily protection.

The massage bars are great for travel and completely sans-packaging. You just rub them over your skin to moisturise and it’s as simple as that. Coal-face is a godsend for my oily skin and it doubles as an exfoliator, as it contains little pieces of coal to gently scrub. I love it more than any face wash I’ve ever tried. Combine these items with our solid shampoo and conditioners bars and we’re set to go! We can’t imagine ever going back to plastic-wrapped, unethical toiletries.

All in all, I love supporting a local retailer, employing (mostly) local people (more on that perhaps another time) all these products are made 5 miles from my house – though ironically I have to travel a couple of miles further on just to buy them! I took all old paper bags and re-used them all. I had to prompt the staff member a couple of times, but they obliged. They sell some items by weight, and they always weigh them without the packaging. They can even cut products to your requirements, like with my piece of coalface soap.

What did the World use as Packaging before Plastic?

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What did the World use before plastic existed? The answer is ‘jute’. Jute is a reed which grew in the rivers around Kolkata (Calcutta), West Bengal, India. It is extracted from the bark of the white jute plant (Corchorus Capsularis) and to a lesser extent from tossa jute (C. olitorius). Jute was woven into sack cloth and used to transport everything from potatoes to coal. In Britain, Dundee was the capital of jute manufacturing for the UK.

Jute is a natural product and should be at the forefront of any moves towards sustainable production and transport of goods. It is known as ‘the golden fibre’ partly due to its lovely shine and colour and also due to its ability to be woven into various textiles. It is incredibly strong when woven. But it is 100% biodegradable and therefore – more environmentally friendly. It is versatile and can be used as a yarn on its own, woven with other fibres and also made into more rigid products like baskets.

Perhaps jute is not confined to the history books and is about to have a resurgence? What do you think? It’s an annual crop which takes only 120 days to grow, during the summer months (May, June, July, August). It’s a rain-fed crop, with no need for fertilisers or pesticides. It also produces good yields, making it a very affordable crop.

Note: If this subject interests you, then you should catch up with Joanna Lumley’s India on the ITV Hub.

TK Maxx Zero Waste Finds!

I stop into TK Maxx every now and again; I like a good rummage. I have found all manner of Zero Waste items here. My top tip is to look here for Dr Bronner’s Castile soap – they frequently have both liquid and bar formats. If you’re on a budget, you will find them much cheaper than your local whole foods store. They also often have bar soaps either in tins or wrapped in paper, it just depends how picky about your ingredients you are.

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I recently wrote about how I found these WONDERFUL solid beeswax body lotions in TK Maxx. Actually, I’m gutted I’m about to come to the end of my supply and I haven’t seen them since. Post in the comments if you find any!

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This week I found a lovely scrubbing brush for doing the dishes, made from solid wood and natural bristles. I bought my e-cloths here, although I now realise they’re not as perfect a cleaning solution, as I once thought due to the plastic microfibres released when washing. But they were vastly cheaper than other places.

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I also have some great glass Pyrex dishes with lids, that can go straight from the freezer to the oven or microwave as they are thermal shock resistant. It also means I no longer freeze a lot of things in plastic.

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I also found this wonderful Pyrex baking sheet in TK Maxx. No nasty silicone coatings and best of all, it goes straight in the dishwasher and comes out looking like new! It is slightly heavier than your standard baking trays and you do need to take care putting it in, and out of the oven.

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I frequently see Kilner and other glass storage jars in here. They often have eco-makeup brushes too. They always seem to have cardboard boxes containing sets of essential oils, packaged in glass.

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They also frequently have glass water bottles and always have metal water bottles in stock. I have seen Klean Kanteen’s in here, really cheap! I got my metal one there for about £4, I think. I’ve had it for years and I will likely go back there to get a glass one eventually.

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Oh and I always get my TEK hairbrushes here, for about 1/4 of the RRP. These are solid wood brushes with either wooden or natural bristles. They are amazing and packaged only in cardboard!

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Do you have any great TK Maxx zero waste finds to share? Please share by posting in the comments 🙂 Other people have told me you can also buy bamboo socks here, in cardboard packaging and loofahs which are useful for cleaning your home and your body.

Is it Vintage or is it Second Hand?

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These days second hand clothes are not always a bargain. The vintage label seems to come with a hefty price tag. Since when have hand-me-downs and cast-offs become ‘vintage’? Is there any real difference? Today I am going to explore this further, with the help of a new series on BBC Radio 4 – From Rags to Riches.

Second-hand is no longer seen as the poor man’s choice and is becoming quite mainstream, with the rise of the likes of eBay. People who bought vintage clothes up until  the Millennium tended to buy only the rarer or more collectible pieces. In more recent times, there has been a real shift and almost anything goes, so long as it is a unique one-off or fits current trends, but without the large price tag of buying new. But with this sweeping change, should we be concerned about true vintage items dying out? This seems likely with the rise in poor quality, fast fashion pieces which are not made to last or even cut well in the first place. I cannot see them enduring in the same way, as items from 40+ years ago.

I have mentioned in a previous post about the history of the garment trade. But what is vintage? Is it simply a garment that is too old, for you to have worn the first time round, in your lifetime? Or is vintage about having a connection with the past? Sometimes people have the luxury of knowing a garment’s original story. But often they are bought anonymously, in a shop or online. I know that I am attracted to clothes from certain eras. I particularly love a lot of the styles that were around in the 1970s, the decade just before I was born. But I can’t really explain why that should be so, it’s probably just personal preference. There certainly seems to have been a lot more meaning attached to certain types of clothing in the past; like flapper dresses, the ‘new look’, mods and rockers or teddy boys, are just a few examples. I am certain that the rise of the term ‘vintage’ has concurred with the rise of the internet and various online marketplaces. Perhaps this is because search engines rely on people searches for certain labels or definitions?

Vintage fashion is quite possibly a counter-cultural movement, a reaction to the fast fashion of the high street. Around the turn of the Millennium,  vintage began to step outside the wardrobes of Punks and students and onto the red carpet. It even found its way onto the pages of high fashion magazines, starting with British Vogue in May 2003. Perhaps some people still adhere too strongly to labels, even when buying second hand. Certainly some people may only buy second hand designer labels. Others may stick to labels that they know suit them, or they like the style of and there’s nothing wrong with that! Still others will actually just like to purchase something second hand, from your common charity shop and just enjoy wearing something that they love, that no-one else has.

So perhaps now, buying vintage or second hand is not an alternative lifestyle choice and has become mainstream in itself? It seems to me that the label vintage is simply applied to any garment over 20 years old, in order to inflate the price artificially. Although I admit that some people have an eye for finding the nicer pieces and perhaps this curation is worth paying a bit extra for. But I love the thrill of the chase. I certainly think there is good vintage and bad vintage, but again perhaps that is a matter of perception. This modern fashion concept called ‘vintage’ just rebrands everything in the same way, whether it’s a Regency gown or a pair of 1990s Adidas Gazelle’s. That is an unhelpful paradox to create.

Certainly, if you head into any fashion design studio what you will find are rails of old clothes (or shall we call them ‘vintage’ darling?) As my Grandad used to tell me, there is nothing new in this world and he always swore that if he kept clothes long enough, they’d be back in fashion again. Not that he truly cared about that, it was just an excuse to never go shopping, well except at jumble sales. (See where I get my love of second hand from – ha!) Anyway, the point is that designers use them as reference points for the ‘new’ trends that they create – whether it’s copying a button, a hem-line, a frill or a motif.

Vintage carries a prestige now because you have the garment and no-one else can. I suppose when people made their own clothes, there was far less likelihood of someone else wearing the same thing, as you chose the material, the pattern and cut it to fit you. Whereas nowadays there is a real fear of turning up in the same thing as someone else, at least for some people. But clearly, the word ‘vintage’ means different things to different people. I still prefer the rummage at the charity shop, along with the generally acceptable price tag. Although even some of them are now offering vintage boutiques, with prices to match! You just have to remember to check the condition of the items, as I often find that they don’t check and have been left with an imperfect, or sometimes unwearable item due to staining.

If you’ve enjoyed my blog post today, you will enjoy listening to the Rags to Riches podcast.

The Rough Guide To Ethical Living

Today I want to recommend to you a book I discovered recently in a charity shop; The Rough Guide to Ethical Living. This book covers climate change, sweatshops, fair-trade, ethical investment, organic food, finances and more. Pretty much every issue you could face in life.

You know, life can sometimes seem like a moral minefield – particularly when you start to pay attention to ethics, zero waste, fair trade or green principles. It’s so hard to know which products or companies we should support and those we would be better avoiding. Also, there are so many claims out there today, despite advertising standards some can be dubious. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by it all.

If you would like some help to decide which ethical claims can you can trust then the Rough Guide to Ethical Living cuts through the ‘greenwash’ to answer your questions. This guide literally looks at all the problems and ethical options. It’s a relatively compact tome, but it covers all the main issues. Where there is more information available, it points you to relevant, trustworthy websites where you can find out more.

It’s particularly aimed at UK readers and recommends websites, books and magazines. It also includes tips on reducing your carbon footprint at home and on the road. I would consider this book to be an essential handbook for responsible consumers and it’s very easy to read. It’s definitely one that I plan to keep on my bookshelf for reference.

According to the blurb, there are a couple of other Rough Guides out there; The Rough Guide to Ethical Shopping and The Rough Guide to Climate Change. I’m going to add these to my reading list!